In response to the Black Lives Matter protests, we white people have answered with the truism, “All lives matter.” In fact, with a bow to the Green movement, all life matters, or should. But that’s the point. All life doesn’t and all lives don’t. Not at least to those of us who have lucked out to be born with cultural silver spoons in our mouths: money, two-parent families, a nice neighborhood, the best public schools, and—by a total quirk of fate—white skin. There’s not much room at the top, the thinking goes, and those of us, through no virtue of our own, who happened to be born in the upper reaches of the social hierarchy have little incentive to make room for those below us, let alone to give them a hand up. In a society based on social Darwinism, your win is paid for by my loss. We white Americans live in a gated community of the mind if not of heart and soul. Stay in your place so I can stay in mine seems our belief.
Okay, English majors of the world: For $100, what’s the literary allusion here? The opening line of Melville’s Moby Dick? That’s right! Send that contestant one hundred crisp new greenbacks! Melville’s classic begins with the narrator advising the reader to call him Ishmael. So, what’s that got to do with the spot price of coffee in Brazil or anything else? Nothing and everything. Read on.
I was just at a church-related monthly meeting. Seven of us had gathered on the patio of one of our members, socially distanced, to help the eighth person discern whether or not to go forward with becoming an Episcopal priest or deacon. In the Episcopal Church nationally, this is a required process at the parish level for an individual to determine whether their call to ministry is solid enough to proceed.
In 1992 HarperCollins published my first trade (versus academic) book: A World Treasury of Folk Wisdom. Compiled and edited with a former student, it was a collection of 1,000 proverbs from all over the world. (Hence the title.) My collaborator and I placed ten each in 100 alphabetically arranged categories, from Adversity to Youth and Age. Our rule was never to have more than one saying per country or culture in a category. This was a challenge since sometimes we had five great proverbs from the same country but could select only one. Furthermore, we made sure to recast the sayings in inclusive language. All the many “He who’s..." were strictly forbidden. With 20,000 copies bought, this book became my bestseller.
Although I didn’t support Bernie Sanders this time around—I did in 2016—I am none the less a democratic socialist. Who knows but I might actually join the party of that name and become a literal capitalist, that is, capitalize the D and S. Here’s why.
My wife and I just got back from a weekend workshop. It was our first in-person event since the Covid lockdown. There were five couples plus a husband-and-wife facilitator duo, or 12 people in all. We were at a small retreat location out in the country, some 12 miles north of Boulder, Colorado, our home. For the most part we wore cloth masks or face shields, had many outside sessions, and practiced social distancing as best we could. The workshop, focused on helping couples live more effectively together, was excellent and well worth the risk. All this by way of context.
My wife and I are almost through the third and final season of the Canadian Broadcasting Company and Netflix’s “Anne with an E,” the wonderful latest dramatization of the first of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” books. In an episode we saw the other day, Anne and her classmates are at a beach to celebrate the completion of the college entrance exam they have taken earlier that day. Sharing a bottle of white spirits of some kind that has launched them into high hilarity, they begin playing Red Rover. So that particular kids’ game is in my head right now.
When I was afraid I was allergic to our lovely calico cat, Zoe, I went to the local allergy clinic to find out. Some 120 pin-pricks later, the doctor told me I wasn’t allergic to cat dander or anything else. I do have some allergies, though, that pin-pricks can’t detect. For example, unphonetic words make me sick. I go into a negative alternate state when I discover a word, especially a foreign one in a language I’m learning, that doesn’t sound like the way it’s spelled.
How can a born Jew, a baptized Christian, and, in order, a confirmed Lutheran, Catholic, and Episcopalian be a Moslem? There’s a literal and a metaphorical answer. First, the literal one. When I was in Morocco in 2001 as an adult facilitator at the World Congress of Youth, our local hosts took a busload of us to see the great Mohammad II Mosque in Casa Blanca. Most mosques are open to people of all faiths but not this one. You had to be Moslem to get in. Since as a non-Moslem I knew a lot about the religion Muhammad had founded, our main host, a young woman, said to her male colleagues, “He’s Moslem enough for this place. Take him in by the men’s entrance.” So, in I went. Minutes later a mosque official stopped me: “Excuse me, Monsieur. Are you Moslem?” I recited the Moslem Confession of Faith in Arabic. “Ah, welcome to our mosque,” he said. Since I had offered that short sentence in the presence of three male Moslems—the official and my two hosts—I was both physically and officially in.
It started right outside my window, about 50 feet away, where there are two half-dead cottonwood trees. The taller, more westward trunk had a bark-free area close to the top at the place the tree-man had sawed off a dead section. Several inches below the top, a perfectly round hole started to appear. No, it wasn’t magic let alone a massive rear-end invasion by a swarm of angry bees. But in a way it was magic and flying critters were involved. I doubt, though, that they were angry. What happened is that a pair of persistent flickers, wood-pecking birds, had decided on making a nest there.